Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

February 25th, 2008

February 25 thru March 2 marks a week-long celebration of the world of wines in Vancouver BC. There are a number of seminars, lunches and tastings that will feature over 1600 wines from 16 countries. For more information and to purchase tickets visit

Spanish Wines Gaining in Popularity and Availability

February 24th, 2008

Opening a bottle of Spanish wine is sometimes a bit like being Forrest Gump with a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to find inside.

But if you’re hesitant about giving wines from Spain a try let me assure you that there are some exceptional choices available locally. Spanish wines also come in a myriad of flavors and styles and there’s the potential for much greater variety than what you might find among domestic wines. To put thing in perspective – Spain is home to almost 150 wine producing grape varietals while in Washington State the bulk of our wine production comes from less than 30.

nullCava, the sparkling wine of Spain, makes a great choice to serve when guests arrive. Try the Augusti Torello Aliguer Cava Brut Vintage 2004 (pictured at left, about $12) for starters. Made primarily from the macabeo grape and two other white varietals, it’s slightly yeasty with hints of apple and citrus and a crisp, bone-dry finish.

For another refreshing change of pace, the Lagar de Castelo 2006 Albariño (about $14) is an incredible white wine. It has a gentle floral aroma, beautiful honeydew melon and lime flavors, well-balanced acidity and a bit of herbaceousness. Serve it well chilled with salads, seafood or shellfish.

The Casa de Illana 2006 Tradición (about $12) is both an outstanding red wine and an outstanding value. This blend of bobal, tempranillo and syrah is loaded with cherry and berry flavors, followed by touches of licorice and sweet oak. Although it’s a fairly big wine with good structure, the fruit component and softness on the finish really shine through.

You’ll find these wines at local wine shops and grocers, and if not in stock they can be special ordered for you.

Syrah: A Versatile, Delicious Red Varietal

February 17th, 2008

Syrah has always been one of my favorite red wines. It can be found in every major grape growing country in the world and, like most varietals, it’s made in an incredible range of styles and flavors.

Syrahs are generally characterized by low to medium acidity, medium to high tannins and medium body. They’re easy to drink after limited time in the bottle, but also cellar well in the three to five year range.

Some choices I’ve enjoyed as of late have included the Chateau de Valflaunès 2004 Espérance (about $16). This lovely wine from Southern France uses syrah as a base with a bit of grenache, mourvedre and cariganne blended in. It’s classic French red wine with understated currant flavors and gentle nuances of smoke, olive, toasted oak and spice. The wine’s overall earthiness and silky finish make it a natural to pair with poultry, beef and pork.

nullOn the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the Layer Cake 2006 Shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley (about $17). This wine really does taste a bit like a black forest cake, with bold, black cherry and mocha flavors that literally jump right out of the bottle. There’s also a hefty, near 15-percent alcohol content to contend with, so you’ll need to fasten your seat belt for this one. Pour a small glass for sipping and enjoy.

From California, the Novy Winery 2005 Syrah is a blockbuster Napa Valley red on every sensory level. It has a beautiful dark, inky color, a fragrant aroma of fresh berries and a high level of complexity to keep your palate guessing. The flavors of the wine are layered and intense with black currant, licorice and molasses predominating.

I purchased my bottle of Novy Syrah ($26 for 750ml or $14 for the 375ml split) at Quel Fromage cheese shop in Fairhaven. Proprietor Rachel Riggs tells me she’s got the only remaining supply of the 2005 vintage in the state, and quantities are limited. Don’t delay in picking up a bottle or two of this marvelous syrah while you still have the chance.

Wine Dinner Class at BTC

February 16th, 2008

6:00 to 9:00 pm – Washington Wine Dinner. Join Dan and BTC Chef and Food Service Director Marc Eilberg for a five-course dinner paired with Washington State wines. Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

Local Restaurants Are Also a Great Source for a Variety of Wines

February 10th, 2008

Wine shops and grocery stores aren’t the only source for good wines. Local restaurants can also provide you with enjoyable wines that are sometimes difficult to find elsewhere. A case in point is Tivoli, a newer Bellingham restaurant located at 1317 Commercial St.

Granted, you’ll pay more for wines in the restaurant that you will in the store. But part of the reason for this – and in my opinion, why it’s worth it – is that the wines are served in an atmosphere where you’re totally pampered. You don’t have to worry about preparing the meal, food and wine recommendations are often made for you, and if the service is impeccable, as it was for me during a recent visit, you won’t even have to refill your own wine glass.

One of the things I look for in a restaurant wine list is variety, with a broad range of choices in terms of price, varietal and country of origin. Tivoli offers a fine list of European selections from France, Italy and Spain as well as domestic wines from Washington, Oregon and California. While there are several wines in the $40 a bottle and up category there are also plenty of good choices in the $20 to $29 a bottle range, along with five whites and seven reds available by the glass.

During my visit I started with an appetizer of Prosecco steamed mussels in cream sauce, accompanied by a glass of Augey White 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($7). This lovely white Bordeaux has understated melon and citrus flavors with bracing acidity in a classic, Old World style.

With an entrée of braised beef, a 2003 Merlot from Three Rivers Winery ($27 a bottle) paired beautifully. It’s a big, dense Washington merlot with firm tannins and dark fruit flavors that open up nicely as the wine is given time to breathe.

For dessert, I enjoyed a glass of the Rotta Winery 2003 Black Monukka ($8) from California. This unique wine resembles a tawny port, with delicious nutty, caramel flavors that melt into a lengthy finish.

Tivoli is currently open for lunch from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm Wednesday through Friday and dinner is served Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00 to 9:00 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5:00 to 10:00 pm. Phone 594-4313 for reservations.

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